Tuesday, 29 March 2016

A Gem By My Local River

16th March 2016

The River Lea starts in Luton and meanders its way down to Hertford. South of Hertford it becomes a little more complicated as on its way to the River Thames parts of the old River Lea have been incorporated in the Lee Navigation Canal. We live 550 yards away from the Lea, but there is no risk of flooding as, being on a hill, we are also 63 feet or 21 yards above it. Anyway I had a couple of hours to spare, so time for a walk along the bank to see what I could find.

These days you don't have to go far to find a Little Egret in Hertfordshire, which 20 years ago would have been unheard of. Nowadays they seem to be more common then Herons and certainly more photogenic. Just look at those yellow feet which you don't always notice when they are standing in water.

Lesser Redpolls are normally seen feeding high in their favourite Alder trees, but luckily on this occasion the Alder tree was at the bottom of the river bank and therefore the Redpoll was at head height. If only it was always this easy.

But the star of the show today was this cracking male Kingfisher which was totally unperturbed by my presence. The only reason I couldn't get closer was that it was on the other side of the river.

Why travel far and wide when you have these little gems on your doorstep?

Friday, 25 March 2016

Wood Larks at Santon Downham

13th March 2016

Wood Larks should be singing now so time for a visit to Santon Downham. Having parked the car we walked down the ride to the clear-fell and proceeded to walk slowly round the area listening out for the unmistakable song of a Wood Lark to no avail. In fact it was very quiet all round with no sign of any Meadow Pipits, Yellowhammers or Stonechats, all of which are usually present. In fact the only birds singing were Sky Larks in the neighbouring sheep field.

At the far side of the area I had a quick scan over Grimes Graves with the bins and quickly located the long-staying Great Grey Shrike, albeit just a pale grey speck at that distance. As it was very quiet here we decided to cut our losses and head back to the car and drive round to Grimes Graves. We had only gone about 20 yards when I heard the faintest of Wood Lark song, probably about 300 yards away, so the Great Grey Shrike plans were put on hold as we decided to try and track down the lark.

The bird was now much closer and although it was relatively easy to determine the direction, it was almost impossible to work out the distance or height. We eventually saw the bird as it dropped out of a tree and landed in the grass between the rows of newly-planted firs. Luckily the bird continued with a very subdued sub-song as it continued to feed which allowed us to locate it and get some shots.

Well, got there eventually, but very hard work. Thank goodness they continue singing whilst on the ground.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Finches and Buntings at Sandy

11th March 2016

At this time of year there is often a build-up of finches and buntings at Sandy so time for a visit before they all disappear. I started with the feeders in the car park where a number of birds take advantage of the seed dropped on to the floor. Unfortunately, these feeders are under the trees and therefore always in deep shade which makes for difficult light conditions. Sadly a number of the Chaffinches here have growths on their legs, which can sometimes be caused by mites.

However, the main attraction this morning were the Bramblings, especially the males that were starting to get their black heads. The black does not moult through, but is caused by the buff fringes of the black feathers wearing off due to abrasion. Notice how the bird in the last photo is keeping an eye out for raptors overhead.

At the next set of feeders Siskins were queuing up for their turn. Here the light was much better so it was just a matter of waiting until one came close on a branch with no twigs in the way. As before, many were feeding on the floor on dropped seed.

Now on to Sandy Heath where there were good numbers of Yellowhammers and Reed Buntings. Unfortunately they were dropping in to the crop and therefore out of sight, so no chance of any photos. Luckily one or two stayed up in the trees like this female Yellowhammer.

But the bonus today was this lone Lesser Redpoll which was feeding on the seed heads and therefore always in view. To make things better the sun came out. How good is that?

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Time for a Visit to Abberton Reservoir

4th March 2016

A bright and sunny albeit chilly day so time for another visit to Abberton Reservoir. As is traditional breakfast was taken on the Layer Breton causeway, followed by a cursory scan of the reservoir with the bins. Nothing of note was observed so I settled down to see what came along. The only early action was a fly-by heron which flapped lazily past the causeway to the other side of the reservoir.

I then spotted a pair of Smew tucked under one the of islands some 150 yards away. After some time they swam out from the trees and started moving towards me, so fingers crossed. My luck was in as they ended up diving in front of the reed bed by the sluice. I had heard that this was one of their favourite spots, but never when I have been there.

I then moved on to the reserve in the hope of getting some Sky Lark flight shots, but surprisingly in view of the calm conditions and sunny day the Sky Larks were few and far between and fairly quiet. However, this Meadow Pipit sitting in one of the newly planted hedges was satisfactory compensation.

Finally I went down to the Layer de la Haye causeway where a male Stonechat was posing nicely along a fence-line towards the southern end.

Due to the calm conditions the reservoir was like a mill-pond and a large raft of Aythya ducks were making the most of the still water, like this striking male Pochard. Something was also spooking the Teal causing them to wheel around in the afternoon sunshine.

But the star of the show today was this cracking male Goldeneye which was diving continuously in the shallows next to the causeway providing some excellent opportunites for some close-up shots.

Abberton Reservoir never disappoints.